Horror movies have always fascinated me. Norman Bates running across the staircase with a knife. Jack Nicholson screaming “Here’s Johnny!” through a hole he axed through the bathroom door. Reagan’s head turning around 360 degrees after she vomited on the priest. Damien’s maid hanging herself at his birthday party. These are the pivotal moments of my childhood, the films and scenes that developed my interest in the horror film, and that eventually led me to pursue a career in writing and film.
While none of these was an independent horror film, I have developed a deep appreciation over the years for slashfests made outside of Hollywood, for small, unknown studios, by people with more energy and ideas than money and equipment—movies by and for movie lovers that don’t conform to the Hollywood blockbuster formula. In the horror genre especially, indie directors tend to make films that are too extreme or controversial for the general public to handle, films that mix humor and pathos, and don’t trade on celebrity.
And unlike indie dramas or even comedies, indie horror films have zero attitude. I love a movie like Bloodsucking Freaks because it is shlock, pure shock, good old fashioned sleazy exploitation, grindhouse style. No one would ever give it an Oscar, or even mention the film’s name in polite company, but it is one helluva fun movie to watch.
If you want some real hardcore, gut-churning, intestines-flying terror, be sure to check the foreign section at your local video store. Today, the best horror and exploitation films and filmmakers are coming from places such as Japan, Hong Kong, Italy, France, Canada, China, and Germany. My favorite living director is the infamous Takashi Miike, whose stunning, shocking, controversial film Audition first opened America’s eyes to Japanese horror. Miike’s subsequent films Ichi the Killer and Visitor Q must be seen to be believed. But even in the U.S., the country that first perfected the horror film art form, it’s at times hard to see Miike’s work. The Showtime Network pulled Imprint, a Miike-directed episode from its Masters Of Horror series, because it was deemed to be too extreme for the American public to watch. This is a clear sign that America is losing its edge in the horror world. If you want to do your part to preserve, protect, and defend American’s gory cinematic heritage, I suggest you check out these classic indie horror films.
10. The Evil Dead. A fast paced, gore-filled tale of the undead attacking the living in a remote cabin in the woods, Evil Dead is also a chaotic, non-stop assault on the viewer. The 1981 film never slows down and never ceases to amaze. This low budget indie launched the career of director Sam Raimi, who went on to helm the SpiderMan franchise. The film also introduced the world to big chinned cult actor Bruce Campbell, a horror fan favorite.
9. Videodrome. David Cronenberg directed this hallucinatory sadomasochsitic thriller. It’s extremely violent, surreal, and has a revolutionary feel even now that it is 25 years old.
8. Session 9. How could I not include a film about a haunted prison, especially one filmed in Massachusetts, my home state? The 2001 film’s creepy atmosphere, characters, and storyline make this a superior independent horror film.
7. Funny Games. This manipulative joke of a German horror film, which was made in 1997, will soon to be remade for U.S. audiences. Could anything be scarier than a home invasion by two well dressed young men with fine white gloves and ulterior motives?
6. Last House on the Left. This 1972 film shocked audiences with its grimly realistic portrait of violence, mayhem, and extreme famiy dysfunction. Decades later the film has lost none of its impact. The monsters here are distinctly human, and that is what is so terrifying.
5. Living Hell. A terror classic from Japan, circa 2000. The story concerns a family that is about as sane as the Texas Chainsaw Massacre family. A sick film of torment and abuse, at the same time a parody of family values in a traditional society.
4. Man Bites Dog. Kind of like a French version of Natural Born Killers, this ultra-violent 1992 horror-slash-comedy satirizes the public’s media-driven blood lust while simultaneously satiating it with scene after scene of horrorific, senseless violence.
3. Eraserhead. Is this a horror film or just one man’s nightmare turned into film? It’s both, and more. Years before he actively championed the virtues of meditation, David Lynch unrelaxed audiences by dragging them into his twisted mind.
2. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. After several decades, this 1974 landmark of the genre still retains its power. You can actually feel menaced by what you see on the big screen. And, on a contemporary viewing, it’s amazing to see how many iconic images the film contains.
1. Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. One of the most terrifying and disturbing fims ever made, this 1986 thriller teaches us that a killer doesn’t have to wear a mask or live in a shack in the woods. He might just well be the guy next door. If you want to have an unforgettable film-watching experience, watch this.
David L. Tamarin co-wrote the film Countess Bathoria’s Graveyard Picture Show, which premiered in July at the Fantasia Film Festival in Montreal. You can visit his blog at www.myspace.com/davidltamarin.